Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Chetniks Save Americans as the Germans Close In

"The Tito government may have shot Mihailovich as a traitor, but I know of at least 300 men who owe their lives to him. He will always be a hero to us."


The Story of the Rescue of the B-24 crew of

“The Chippie Doll”

By Staff Sgt. Raymond Weber

Sunday morning, June 11, 1944: We left our base about 5:00 a.m. It was our third mission after coming home from a week of R & R on the Isle of Capri.

We were headed for the oil fields in Guerju, Romania. The Germans were pumping oil and loading it into barges to be sent down the Danube River.

Attacked by German fighters – Folke Wolfes (I think) – we were damaged and had to slow down. The other planes dropped their bombs on the target and turned back. As they turned, we dropped our bombs (on no telling what) and tried to get back into formation, but we had to slow down too much. It became evident we couldn’t make it and the remaining American fighters dipped their wings and had to leave us. That’s when the German Luftwaffe closed in.

Hefling ordered me out of my turret and into the plane. The alarm rang out and we knew this was it. I could see the boys in front going out the Bombays. Four of us went out the camera hatch in the back. As our parachutes opened, we watched the plane go into the mountainside and explode.

I landed in some trees and luckily escaped getting caught in the branches. I buried my parachute and began running in order to get as far away from the drop sight as possible. Down the mountain I could German troops in their armored trucks beginning their search for us.

I ran for two hours and finally dropped from exhaustion. As I lay there trying to catch my breath, I saw heads come up the mountain into view. To my relief, I knew they were not German troops because they had women and children with them. They wearing the strangest assortment of uniforms I had ever seen. Some were armed with only rakes and pitchforks.

“English, English!” they clamored.

“No, American,” I said.

Very pleased, they shouted “Americansky!”

They all wanted to shake my hand and kiss me. I was very thirsty and tried sign language with a motion of drinking. Someone handed me a bottle and I took a deep swallow. “Oh my God! Rackia!” It was their homemade whiskey which, by the way, before we got out of there, we almost got to like the stuff!

They wanted to know where I had hidden my parachute. Sign language again – “Under leaves.” After everyone searched for about two hours, we finally found it.

I was then taken to a little house down in the valley where I met up with Staff Sgt. Frank Kincaid (Crew Tail Gunner). We gathered from them that we were with the Chetniks under the command of General Mihailovich. They fed us and we spent the night with them. Later we were joined by Tech Sgt. Joe Hoffman (Crew Gunner) and Tech Sgt. John Martin (Crew Radio Operator/Gunner). Two to three days later we were all reunited.

We traveled from one relay station to another, never spending much time in one place. One guide made the entire trip with us. At one point we picked up a P38 pilot who had been badly burned. The natives had put black salve on him, but he was in bad shape.

Our co-pilot had broken his ankle on the jump and had to be carried by the crew or rode in an ox cart when we could get one.

I had left that morning with no gun, no watch, and was dressed only in coveralls that bagged all around me. I remember Captain Robert Hefling, the pilot, saying to me, “For God’s sake Weber, walk behind me! I can’t stand to look at you any longer!”

The people fed us whatever they had: onions, black bread, goat cheese. Once we had mulberry soup made from mulberry leaves.

One day we were eating in a tavern-type building when one of the guides rushed in, “Germanskys are coming, Germanskys!” We were too tired to care and ignored him. He jumped on the table and screamed, “Germanskys! Run!”

When we heard in the distance the motors of the trucks and motorcycles, we decided to run for it after all and dashed up the mountain looking for cover.

Another time we were dressed in their peasant clothes and walked along the road with groups of refugees, men, women and children. A German column passed along the road beside us. With our beards and dirty clothes, we resembled our rescuers enough to fool the Germans. Had I put out my hand, I could have touched the enemy.

What a chance those people took! If we had been discovered, there is no doubt we would all have been shot on the spot, along with the peasants and their children.

We were walking along a valley road enjoying, for a change, the fact that it was level, when the scout in front came rushing back. “Germanskys!” – Again!!

A small shallow river ran along one side of the road with a sheer bluff on the other. No choice – into the river to hide among the weeds. Luckily it was a short column. Cold and hungry and now very wet as well, we struggled on.

They kept moving us around to avoid detection. The longest we stayed in one place was three days. After nearly two months of this, we were informed that there was a rescue mission being formed in Italy to come for us.

Three men from Italy had parachuted in and had the peasants working on a makeshift runway on top of one of the mountains. Bonfires were made ready to act as landing lights. One night they were lit as eight C47 transport planes came in and picked up the sick and wounded. It was decided that night landings were too risky so we had to wait. The third day we saw them coming in again. There were six C-47s this time, and we began running from our hiding places to the air strip. It was about two miles away and as we ran, we saw the planes taking off again.

“Oh, Damn! Come back! Come back! Wait for us!” Our navigator was close to a coronary. We ran faster!!

Then, with relief, we saw another formation coming in for us. They were surrounded by P51 American fighter planes holding off the Germans while the rescue was taking place. It was like a scene from a movie! I was amazed to see how many airmen had been assembled and later learned it was close to 300.

Accompanied by our nodding, smiling peasants to see us off, we scrambled into the planes. Shoes, shirts, anything we could decently take off, were thrown back to the poor, disheveled Chetnik army who were dressed in rags and had risked their lives to save us.

The C47 pilots were busily running around trying to collect souvenirs from the people while we were in a terrible hurry to get them back into the planes before the Germans showed up again.

I still have the rip cord that saved me that day. I have a Yugoslavian army hat, which had somehow found its way into my possession. I have part of my parachute. The Serbs took part of it for cloth and all of the strings for thread.

The Tito government may have shot Mihailovich as a traitor, but I know of at least 300 men who owe their lives to him. He will always be a hero to us.

Staff Sgt. Raymond Weber
Ball Turret Gunner

THE CREW of B-24 “The Chippie Doll”

Captain Robert Hefling, Pilot
1st Lt. Richard Stillman, Co-Pilot
1st Lt. Robert Welborn, Bombadier
1st Lt. Karl Pfister, Navigator
Tech Sgt. Joe Hoffman, Gunner
Tech Sgt. John Martin, Radio Operator/Gunner
Staff Sgt. Raymond Weber, Ball Turret Gunner
Staff Sgt. Norman Elzeer, Gunner
Staff Sgt. Frank Kincaid, Tail Gunner
Staff Sgt. Frank Chappell, Nose Gunner
Staff Sgt. Fred Lucas, Photographer

Blog Author’s note: I wish to thank Raymond and Viola Weber of Missouri for submitting Ray’s story and for sharing their memories of the great rescues of Allied personnel that took place in occupied Yugoslavia in 1944.

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